Opinion How Anita Sarkeesian (indirectly) gave me new hope for video games: Part 2

Into the woods with the Wolves of Gamergate.

Liana Kerzner

Published

By Liana Kerzner @redlianak

Editor's note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, Metaleater Media as a whole.

(Warning: The following contains an objective analysis of the Gamergate controversy and says some nice things about Pro-Gamergate people. You may want to skip to part three if you can't handle that. I won't hold it against you. Also, may contain other triggers. I don't know, I can't keep track anymore. This has been a lot of writing.)

To start this section off, I tried to come up with an evocative metaphor for my early experiences with the members of the "Pro-Gamergate" movement. What I came up with was "It was like having my skull cracked with a s**t jackhammer, then having a pile of manure dumped on me for three straight days."

To say that Pro-Gamergate and I got off on the wrong foot is an understatement, but I can't blame them for that. I'm a games journalist, and they were primed to believe I was evil incarnate. I think it's undeniable that there are greater short-term professional advantages to jumping on the Anti-Gamergate bandwagon, but I've read enough to know that movements are often judged more kindly by history than they are by headlines. Therefore, I think the most professionally responsible thing I can do is relay my experiences with the people involved in Gamergate regarding my series of essays, and let the chips fall where they may. I understand that what I'm saying is controversial. But isn't it sad that truth is ever controversial?

Pro-Gamergate gamers are allegedly driven by a hatred of women, and yet somehow a large number of Pro-Gamergate readers supported the form of feminism I offered through my essay series. And yes, I can be certain they're Pro-Gamergate, because I've been talking to them for months.

To be clear -- because people keep trying to say I'm "Pro-Gamergate" just because I'm not "Anti-Gamergate," I do not support many of Pro-Gamergate's tactics -- most notably the swarm tactics that focus on personality and identity politics instead of issues, the use of tabloid websites as sources of reliable information, and digging into people's lives looking for personal dirt. Occasionally we still clash, and things get real. There are, however, many people on both sides of the equation -- and caught in the middle of the war -- who don't agree with those tactics either. Like me, they care about good policy, community building, and equality of opportunity for everyone. We have that in common even if I don't agree with them regarding how to get there. This is why I'm not actively Anti. I'm an objective third-party, like the vast majority of gamers. I'm just an engaged objective third party, because I did three articles about the Gamergate controversy in its early days.

My goal here is not to weigh the merits of Gamergate, however. My goal here is to add information to the dialogue regarding this "hate movement" stuff. If Gamergate as a whole was truly against women, I could expect to receive rape threats, death threats... because those are standard issue for women in gaming, right? Especially ones that use the word "patriarchy."

Well, no one threatened to rape or murder me. In fact, I didn't expect the response from Pro-Gamergate subreddit /r/KotakuInAction to be as positive as it was. I expected a much rougher ride, because I thought feminism -- any feminism -- was going to be inherently unpalatable to that subreddit. I was wrong, and I'm sorry I misjudged that group of redditors in that way. Even 8chan? wasn't that bad................... I KNOW. 8CHAN.

The greatest hostility came from Anti-Gamergate groups, including a group that exists only to oppose Gamergate, /r/Gamerghazi, but nothing there rose to the level of threats either. So it is possible to have a discussion about controversial subjects in gaming without having to call the cops. We've collectively proved it's possible.

Let's take a moment to enjoy that. Really. Everyone deserves credit for that. That's a big win.

Gamerghazi

Okay back to the not-so-great stuff.

I initially planned to go point by point through Gamerghazi's idiotic defamation, but I decided that doing so would give the attacks more validation than they deserve. Gamerghazi is an inherently non-objective environment. Saying anything not-negative about Gamergate is an offense punishable by banning. It's right in their rules:

"Once again: No pro-GG posts. This includes "JAQing off," intentionally asking leading questions while pretending to be a neutral party, or downplaying the actions of GG." (Please note, the subreddit has since changed its rules.)

Pretending to be a neutral party? Gamerghazi can't even smell obvious hoaxes like the Jace Connors thing. So why exactly do they believe they can accurately thought police a person's true views on an issue? Flinging an accusation at someone to make them prove what a penitent person they are is manipulative and I won't be a part of that, especially when dealing in a medium like twitter where character restrictions lead to some inelegant turns of phrase.

Of course, Gamerghazi isn't the only junior high school-worthy discourse on Reddit. No, there's /r/GirlGamers as well. The response to my work there was also a collection of personality politics, misrepresentations of what I actually said, and inaccurate nitpicking. But at least they didn't delete the nasty inaccuracies.

On both of these subreddits (and elsewhere, which is why I'm actually addressing this point) I was accused of just being jealous of Anita Sarkeesian's success. This is the complete opposite of what I actually said -- that I want Feminist Frequency to refine their methods and keep going. I shouldn't have been surprised by this inaccurate, unsubstantiated, thoroughly assumptive accusation, but I found myself getting really... offended.

Who in their right mind would be jealous of a person who constantly receives death and rape threats?

I felt the accusation dehumanized both of us. The "she's just jealous" dismissal is so casually tossed around, especially where women are concerned, that people didn't stop to think that in this case it's actually disrespectful to the horrors Anita has gone through. I mean, really. Disagreements aside, the woman deals with some Grade-A, hardcore stuff. Respect where it's due.

Anita Sarkeesian

Who in their right mind would be jealous of a person who constantly receives death and rape threats?"

This "jealousy" paradigm is a result of the subtle cultural misogyny that encourages women to savagely tear each other apart. Two women respectfully disagreeing is not a catfight and it's not jealousy. As a member of the video game media, it's my job to respectfully and thoughtfully speak truth to power. I have read, listened to, absorbed, and responded to various criticisms against me because it's something I think everyone should do. Of course, I don't respond to criticism I feel is a personal attack, but I have addressed stuff I felt was substantial enough. I'm confident enough in my abilities to admit where I see room for improvement. That's how people... you know... improve.

Unfortunately, the smears against me made the praise I received from the Pro-Gamergate folks easy to dismiss as yet another attack on Anita Sarkeesian using me as a weapon. I disagree, however, with this premise, because Pro-Gamergate people weren't just flinging around things I said as attacks. Many actually engaged with feminist thought, applying ideas like gender performativity to some of their favourite characters. Others wrote about similar topics through their own lenses. This hardly fits the narrative of a pack of misogynist hatemongers just out to destroy women.

Of course, I've invested a lot in keeping communication channels open with Pro-Gamergate people, but I don't think that's grounds to dismiss the positive response they had to my articles. I think that underlines the point that it's important to keep talking to people, even when you have fundamental points of disagreement with them.

Of course, there were some haters, and in the interest of honesty, I'll give them some column space. A peculiar accusation from some on the Pro-Gamergate side was that I "flip-flopped." They accused me of changing my opinions for popularity. Right. I want to be popular, so I speak positively about a demonized group the world believes is a bunch of misogynists. That makes absolutely no sense.

By far, however, the biggest complaints regarded my aforementioned use of the term "patriarchy." At least some people asked me what I meant before jumping on me on that point. I appreciated that.

Patriarchy Today

So what do I mean by patriarchy? The short version of the explanation is that patriarchy, to me, means a male-dominated system where masculine traits are praised over feminine ones. Signs of patriarchy are all around us. Line of Succession in the British monarchy was changed shortly before the birth of Prince George so that Kate and William's oldest child would be the first in line to the throne of that generation regardless of gender. Before that, boys took priority over girls, meaning that the British monarchy, in recent memory, was literally a patriarchy. When my sister wanted to live in England for a few years, the relevant family background was the male side of the family. Over in North America, we've never had a female president, a female vice president, an elected female prime minister of Canada, and there are very few women running Fortune 500 companies. These are all signs of remaining patriarchal elements of our culture.

Judeo-Christian religious underpinnings are also highly patriarchal. A woman can't be pope or a priest in Catholicism, nor can they be rabbis in Orthodox Judaism. A minyan, or prayer group, traditionally requires ten males. The most regressive wings of Judaism do not believe a woman should publicly read from the Torah. And "radical Islam" is pretty much synonymous with the oppression of women, even though those bad associations are cultural ones, not religious ones, for the most part. Therefore, while the influences are weakening, Western society is still somewhat patriarchal, and globally there are still undeniably highly patriarchal cultures.

The strength of a patriarchal influence is far more difficult to determine and I didn't attempt to. And patriarchy doesn't mean that every single man in the civilized world is a master of his domain. Not all men are patriarchs. But it's undeniable that the bulk of the government decisions that affect all of us are still made, primarily by men even when it involves women's reproductive health. I think it's fair to say that the trend is moving toward an increasingly less patriarchal society, but there's still work to do.

Hopefully that explains that point better. I didn't think it would be so contentious.

Kate, William and Prince George Pope Francis

Another very strange objection related to my use of trigger warnings. One person went so far as to call them "authoritarian." I include trigger warnings on my articles because I want them to be as accessible as possible, and content warnings allow those with trauma conditions to choose for themselves whether or not to read the content. There is a massive difference in being hit with potentially traumatic material when you're ready for it, and when it catches you by surprise. Caught off guard, a person with PTSD can become erratic or non-functional when triggered. I know this because I've lived through it. This is an essay in itself, so I'll leave it there, except to say that going forward I'll attempt to achieve a compromise by using labels such as "content advisory" as opposed to the polarizing term "trigger warning." It's really all the same to me. This compromise isn't popular with radical feminists who insist I'm attacking the entire concept of trigger warnings, but it makes sense to me, and there's really no pleasing those who enjoy being offended.

On that note, some people started attacking me for passively encouraging harassment. The reasoning was that certain "undesirables" were sharing what I wrote. I received multiple tweets, Twitlongers and Facebook messages referencing the theory that my words would be used as weapons, even though I reminded people to keep comments respectful in every portion of the series.

These people have missed the point entirely. (One person realized this and apologized. Yay for them! Happiness!)

We cannot find the best ideas through fear, and the culture of fear pervading the video game industry right now is grave cause for concern. Right now, gaming is being driven by what George Orwell referred to as "bully worship, under various disguises." Here's the extended quote, from his review of Bertrand Russell's Power:

"Where this age differs from those immediately preceding it is that a liberal intelligentsia is lacking. Bully-worship, under various disguises, has become a universal religion, and such truisms as that a machine-gun is still a machine-gun even when a 'good' man is squeezing the trigger... have turned into heresies which it is actually becoming dangerous to utter."

Video games have avoided government censorship in North America only to be subjected to this ridiculous pseudo-religious thought policing. Not only is this thinking utterly counter-intellectual, it's cowardly. It's cynical. It stops people from speaking their minds and hearts because of some warped idea that dissent is connected to a form of original sin. This is the thinking behind book banning and other forms of censorship. There is no way that any author, composer, or designer can ever predict what angry, bitter, aggrieved people will do with their work. Every person is responsible for their own actions.

We cannot argue for increased diversity and insist that there's something inherently wrong with dissent at the same time. Diversity and dissent are conjoined twins. Creators have to dissent against the idea that the only mass-marketable type of video game protagonist is a brown-haired white man in order to make games that defy that stereotype and sell anyway. And yes, right now, alternative games and indie games are selling far less than AAA games, but they also cost a lot less to make. Small studios are managing to keep making games, so there must be a market for them. But studios like Minority Media, the Fullbright Company, and The Astronauts... even Destructive Creations... would not exist if their founders didn't decide to rebel against the AAA game development model. The message of "don't speak a dissenting opinion because someone might get hurt" exists in complete opposition to the freedom of spirit these studios embody. Creativity and risk are linked. Progress and risk are linked. Safety enforces the status quo.

I think that we need honesty in games writing more than ever now, so I'm willing to take the risk inherent in pointing out that many Pro-Gamergate people are open to feminist approaches to games. Those of us who cover games have a responsibility to tell the truth, not cherry pick facts to prop up a narrative. Pro-Gamergate is a convenient enemy right now, but it's not productive to mass-ostracize these people... because they are people.

We cannot change the terrible things that some on both the Pro-Gamergate and Anti-Gamergate sides have done. Furthermore, we can't stop third-party opportunists from using the Gamergate controversy for lulz. What I can do is report facts, and the fact is that the response to my article series indicates that many Pro-Gamergate activists are just fine with feminist voices.

I know that there's going to be a tendency to shut out that observation, but I think that's the wrong way to go. I think this is a very exciting finding. Something worked. People talked! Gamergate didn't respond to a feminist speaking her mind by trying to harass her off the Internet! I'd love to see this used as a foundation to build upon, to hopefully get to a place of healing.

I think the first step in that is accountability. The second step is forgiveness. Yes, the first few months of Gamergate were downright ugly, but no single faction had the the market cornered on that ugliness. The idea that hate, revenge, bitterness or jealousy is unique to gamers is thoroughly absurd.

Furthermore, the idea that anyone's life is improved by being the subject of a media circus is dangerous. Trying to solve the "harassment problem" facing women in the video game industry via activist press coverage is lunacy, since the trolls troll for lulz. The most useful paradigm shift we can make is understanding that the people making threats aren't doing it for anything more than the explosion that ensues as a result. We would not have Jace Connors if not for the fact that everyone talked about Jace Connors. That's incentive to act badly for people who feel small.

What's lacking from this whole fiasco is any incentive to anyone to behave well. So I'm attempting to give credit where credit is due. The industry has been held ransom by a culture war for too long, people need to move forward, and to do that, we need to leave behind those unwilling to compromise. It's been over six months. Gamergate is not going away. So we have to incorporate it into our understanding of the video game landscape. Like we did with Candy Crush Saga.

That was a joke.

So that's that, for what it's worth. Two more to go. The positives that have come out of this experience, including some evolutions in Anita Sarkeesian's ideas! Yaaaaaaaay! Remember! Be respectful in your comments!

Images courtesy of Fox News, Feminist Frequency, Huffington Post, Us Magazine and Konami Digital Entertainment.